She knew it was coming—her boss at the bar was always saying that an American-made car can’t make it to 200,000 miles.
Something in the motor just gave out when she’d slowed around the bend. Mandy had steered the car to the side of the road, let it come to rest by the woods, the night dark with fog. Immediately she fished in her purse for her cell, fear rising up in her chest.
She got out and walked along the muddy ground, waving her phone in the air, searching for a signal. Nothing. A dead zone. Mandy looked around—there were no houses, no stores. Only miles of trees.
A couple of vehicles passed by, but none stopped. That was good. What she wanted was a cop.
She got back in her car, locked the doors, turned the headlights off, dropped her phone in her purse. Three am. Mandy told herself not to panic, not to let the sickening feeling in her stomach take over. This wasn’t a tragedy. Her parents would help her get another car. She was safe for now. A policeman was bound to come along.
What pulled up behind her was an SUV, headlights lighting up the inside of her broken-down vehicle. She heard two doors open and shut, and before she could think, a face glowed in the driver’s side window. A knock and another face appeared on the passenger side.
“You in trouble, Mandy?”
It was Dave and Ray-Ray, two guys she’d served earlier that evening. They hadn’t stayed long, just enough to down a pitcher of beer and a couple of shots of Cuervo.
“My car just died,” Mandy said.
Dave shrugged, pointed to his ear, motioned for her to roll down the window. She couldn’t because there was no power in the car.
“Step out,” he called.
Hesitantly, Mandy opened the door, the SUV’s headlights blazing up the scene, illuminating the mist that hung in the dark. Something felt rotten in her gut and as soon as her feet touched the soft mush of the earth again, regret swamped through her blood.
Dave jumped in the driver’s seat, tried the ignition. It just choked. “Transmission.”
“Yeah,” Mandy agreed.
Dave got out, stood, looked Mandy over. Ray-Ray was suddenly behind them.
“I called my dad,” she lied.
“You got service out here?”
Ray-Ray smirked. “You got a super phone?”
Even in the bright light from the SUV, Mandy could tell the two men weren’t right. They’d been doing something—coke, speed, whatever else—and their eyes were wild. Opportunistic. Ray-Ray was a big man, a hunter. Dave was smaller, beer-bellied, long arms.
“We’ll help you,” Dave said.
Mandy told them not to bother, that her dad would be there soon.
“I’m fine,” Mandy said.
Dave cocked his head, bit the fingernail on his thumb, eyed his friend.
Mandy had made two-hundred dollars during her shift and the cash was sitting in her purse, the purse on the seat in her car. But she didn’t care about it now. She looked at the ground, snuck a look into the woods, and, in a sudden jolt, took off.
Branches snapped at her bare arms, her face, she slipped and fell, got up, ran, fell again, got up again. She heard them yelling after her, saying, “Mandy, we ain’t gonna hurt you! I swear!” But these were lies. She ran and ran in the darkness until she slammed into a tree, stunning her senses, making her drop to the ground. Her stomach went sick, her mind closed in, their voices in the distance.
Something crawled on her arm—a spider, maybe—and that’s what woke her. It was still dark. She waited for daylight, then got up, hiked cautiously back, prepared to duck if she saw the SUV. The scratches on her arms, the ache in her head, made her dizzy.
As she got closer, the sounds of the road—the groaning of vehicles—eased her mind. Daylight traffic.
Her car sat alone. She got in, found the key in the ignition. Gracefully, it turned over and started.
As Mandy drove away, she looked in her purse.
Yeah, they’d taken her money.